MINNEAPOLIS — Ohio State’s 45-31 win over Minnesota in its season opener on Thursday night might not have been perfect, but Ryan Day wasn’t surprised by that.
“I think we learned a lot from this experience. To say that I’m surprised by the way it played out, I’m not. We played a lot of young guys on the road in a conference game, our first game with fans in the stands in a long time,” he said. “The way we rallied and played in that second half, we’ve got a lot to build on here.”
It was a tale of two halves for the No. 4 Buckeyes.
In the first half, and even into the early minutes of the second half, OSU couldn’t put Minnesota away.
The Gophers led 14-10 at halftime and had a 21-17 lead early in the second half.
But big plays on offense and defense by Ohio State turned the game around.
Quarterback C.J. Stroud completed 13 of 23 passes for 294 yards and four touchdown passes — all of them in the second half — in his first career start.
His TD throws went for 70 yards to freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson, 61 yards and 38 yards to Chris Olave, and 56 yards to Garrett Wilson.
Stroud admitted to some first game jitters. “Thank God I have great teammates who encouraged me,” he said.
“Everything that was called was great. Sometimes things don’t go your way. That was the first half. My mind wasn’t right (in the first half). I was all over the place. I didn’t feel like it was terrible but it could have been better. I kept my head up, stayed positive and my teammates just kept egging me on. I thought I did really good in the second half.”
Day said he and Stroud had discussed the possibility things might not be perfect right away.
“That was his first game, his first pass. There’s a lot going on there. You know it may be a little murky early on and that’s what was going on there,” he said.
“You don’t just walk out at Ohio State at quarterback and throw three or four touchdown passes and call it a day. He fought through it. He and I had a conversation early on that we were going to keep swinging no matter what happens and we’re not going to play it close to the vest, that’s not the way we do it here and he responded.”
The biggest defensive play of the night came with Ohio State leading 24-21 with two-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter when Zach Harrison sacked Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan and forced a fumble that Haskell Garrett scooped up and took to the end zone.
It was the second career touchdown by the Buckeyes’ defensive tackle.
Ohio State had 495 yards of total offense as Minnesota had 408.
The Gophers’ running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who led the Big Ten in rushing last season, had 163 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdown before leaving the game in the third quarter with what looked like it could be a serious leg injury.
Ohio State played without three starters.
Starting center Harry Miller and starting cornerbacks Cam Brown and Sevyn Banks were out for unspecified reasons.
Asked if the two cornerbacks would play next week against Oregon, Day said, “I hope so.”
The first half started off well enough for Ohio State, when it took a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
But the final 12 minutes of the half were a different story, when the Gophers were the aggressor and Stroud committed the first big turnover of his career.
Ohio State got a big play from running back Miyan Williams, when he went 71 yards for a touchdown with 7:22 left in the first quarter — on a play where he ran the wrong direction.
He was supposed to go to his left and run inside.
Williams, a 3-star recruit who had only 10 carries all of last season, got the start at running back and made a good impression right away.
The Buckeyes went up 10-0 on a 35-yard field goal by Noah Ruggles, a graduate transfer from North Carolina who — at least for one week — won the kicking job ahead of Jake Seibert.
Minnesota responded with a 6-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, which included two big plays — a 56 yard-run by Ibrahim and a 13-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Wright, who became the Gophers’ go-to receiver with Chris Autman-Jones out with an injury.
With its lead cut to 10-7, it was time for Ohio State to respond — but the Buckeyes coughed up the ball on a turnover when Minnesota’s Brevyn Spann-Ford intercepted a pass at Minnesota’s 41-yard line and returned it 22 yards to the 37.
Seven plays later, Ibrahim scored on a 1-yard run to give Minnesota its first lead of the night at 14-10.
OSU regained the lead at 17-14 on its first possession of the second half — on Stroud’s 38-yard touchdown pass.
Minnesota answered with a 19-yard touchdown run by Ibrahim for a 21-17 lead, the last time it would lead in the game.
Wilson’s 56-yard scoring catch put OSU in front to stay at 24-21.
The Gophers cut the Buckeyes’ lead to a touchdown twice in the fourth quarter — before Olave’s 61-yard touchdown catch made it 45-31 with 4:39 to play.
It stayed that way, and now it’s on to next Saturday’s home opener against Oregon for Ohio State.